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PHOTOS: Five Signs That Spring is on the Horizon

The official start of spring is only a couple weeks away, March 20. Warmer weather and longer days will soon become the norm in the Northern Hemisphere. The transitional season to summer brings with it a list of things to look forward to in the upcoming months.

1. Shamrock Shakes Grace McDonald's Menus

For those not familiar with the concoction, the Shamrock Shake is a minty, vanilla milkshake that only appears seasonally on McDonald's menus. This year McDonald's Corporation is distributing the Shamrock Shake nationally for the first time.

In years past, the popular dessert beverage was only sold in select locations, but now all 14,000 U.S. restaurants will be serving the green, sweet treat through March 25, 2014.

Shamrock Shakes are released in the weeks leading up to St. Patrick's Day, as early as Feb. 7, 2014, and they have been spotted in most major metropolitan areas, including New York City.

2. Holidays We Wait All Year For

People look forward to Christmas and New Years all year long, but don't forget the spring holidays are ones to anticipate as well.

Mardi Gras is a highly anticipated holiday in New Orleans, La. Today, Mardi Gras goers can expect a colder weather, with a high of 43 F which is more than 20 degrees Fahrenheit below the region's normal March temperatures.

People come from all over to experience the warmth and celebration dating back to the 1700s. The French Quarter of the city becomes a sea of colors as floats, dancers, Mardi Gras indians and krewes flood the streets.

Some floats are elaborate and beautiful, while others are funny and satirical. Many krewes, or organizations, spend thousands of dollars into making these floats. They're not made overnight. Krewes work on these creations year-round, often at secret dens around the city and display them throughout the city during the parade.

Every year on March 17, the Irish and the Irish-at-heart across the globe observe St. Patrick's Day. What began as a religious feast day for the patron saint of Ireland has become an international festival celebrating Irish culture with parades, dancing, special foods and a whole lot of green.

Every year, the city of Chicago dyes the Chicago River green for it's annual St. Patrick's Day celebration. The average high for March 17 in Chicago is 47 F for the green holiday.

New York City hosts one of the biggest parades with more than 150,000 marchers who are led by members of the 165th Infantry (originally the Irish 69th Regiment of Fighting Irish fame). Participants include members of Irish societies from New York and around the country and flood the streets of New York despite the average high for the date only reaching 50 F.

3. Roller Coasters Soar Through the Skies

When the warmer weather does finally become a normality, leaving the house and heading outdoors will also become regular. After long winters without visitors, amusement parks, such as Six Flags, are gearing up and awaiting customers.

On March 8, 2014, Six Flags Magic Mountain in Los Angeles plans to open on weekends and operate under fixed hours. The average high for the park's opening date is around 65 F. Throughout the month, the park will begin its weekday hours and a full-service schedule into the summer months.

As the East Coast begins to see spring weather, Six Flags Great Adventure, in New Jersey, opens it's doors on April 12, 2014, which begins the official start to its summer season. The average high temperature around this time of year is 60 F for the area.

Hersheypark is another popular park to visit come the springtime. April 12, 2014, the park will open its doors from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST for the first full day of service. The park offers a concert series, live shows, rides and of course, plenty of Hershey's chocolate. With a normal high for the date of 61 F, there is less of a risk of melting chocolate compared to the hot summer months.

"Weather plays a big part in our attendance at Hersheypark. If we have good weather, people are anxious to be outside and have fun. If if is too hot, too cold, too rainy or too snowy, people tend to stay indoors and prefer to participate in indoor activities," Kaylee Dugan, Hershey communications coordinator, said.

It's not just park-goers that fair better under springtime conditions, but the rides at Hersheypark are affected by the weather too.

"Some of the rides are not able to operate in weather that is too cold or too windy. In addition, rides must be closed during extreme weather events such as lightning and thunder," Dugan said.

4. Floral Gardens are the Perfect Seasonal Spot

Before seasonal allergies kick in, taking in the scenery at a botanical or show garden can be quite the experience.

The Butchart Gardens are a nationally-recognized site outside of Vancouver, Canada, specializing in more than 100 years of flowers in bloom. In early spring, the garden offers a tour of the grounds showcasing some of spring's earliest bloomers such as flower cherries, witch hazels, and beds of daffodils and tulips.

"We have over 5,000 square feet worth of gardens that offer a teaser for springtime. We want to 'wow' people with color so we plant an excessive three-hundred bulbs a year and even import some from Prince Edward Island to showcase all that Canada has to offer from coast to coast," Graham Bell, public relations officer, said.

Bell said that flowers of the showcase gardens are grown under a specific set of conditions to visually impress spectators.

"It's a function of light and temperature and as spring brings the longer days and warmer temperatures out, flowers have the chance to really flourish before Mother Nature brings on the pollinators," Bell said.

The end of March and beginning of April is when Bell said the flowers really start to ramp up.

"Depending on how warm it stays and the different depths at which we plant our bulbs, it allows us to produce a good show year-round. It's not like a firework where it goes off and then it's all over. We plant for a consistent showing," Bell said.

5. Go to the Races

Springtime is the perfect time where many major cities hold their yearly marathons. The Boston Marathon is scheduled for April 21, 2014. Five hundred thousand spectators flock to Greater Boston in eastern Massachusetts to witness the world's oldest marathon.

Similarly, the city of Pittsburgh also holds a annual marathon. The event, sponsored by Dick's Sporting Goods, is to be held on May 4, 2014. Aside from the main race, there are running events throughout the weekend such as a half marathon, marathon relay, a 5k race and a kids marathon.

"We look forward to a start at about 50 F and ending race day in the mid 60s F. In the past we've seen conditions like this give way to faster times and healthier runners because no one gets overheated," Patrice Matamoros, CEO of the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Marathon, said.

Spring temperatures make running long distances less challenging for runners.

"If we hosted the marathon in the summer, we'd have to worry about an increased heat index and increased humidity, which makes it hard on our volunteers and runners. That isn't even weather that our spectators enjoy," Matamoros said.

This year, spring will begin with the vernal equinox on March 20, 2014, at 12:57 p.m. EDT. With intense wintery weather soon behind much of the United States, spring is a much welcomed visitor to the region.